These full and frank independent reviews are from travellers who have booked directly through Responsible Travel. They are not edited by us or any of the companies we work with. Find the real story, from real travellers below.
Lorrie Marchington review 11 Apr 2012Great guides. Both Wi and Aor were great company and very knowledgeable.
Hotels: Queen’s Garden hotel not up to western standards and we couldn’t walk anywhere from there. However, food and staff were good.
Hotel Mae Salong Villa – really uncomfortable bed, mainly because of thick lumpy duvet – too cold without it, but too hot and uncomfortable with it. Thin blanket would be better. Food here was much more expensive than the other places we stayed, and it felt a little like a rip off. Small pots of steamed rice are charged for. I had the speciality – lamb, but this was all it was. A huge piece of meat (enough for 4 people) but no vegetables at all. Least favourite place to stay and eat.
Chiang Rai Wangcome. Nice – great bed and bedding.
Karinthrip Chiang Mai. Nice place to stay though the rooms were very dingy even with the lights on.
Baan Suan Hotel Thaton. Lovely place.
Bangkok Viengai. Not an area for us – we hated the hellish streets around – crowded with the worst types of European visitors to Thailand. Would have preferred a quieter area.
The most disappointing thing for me was the visit to the Elephant camp. (Mae Tang). I was surprised we went to such a place with a responsible travel company. The elephant show was so sad – elephants made to perform. The little elephant being made to draw was showing real signs of stress – we left at this point. Similarly, the elephants that were tied up were swaying (something we understand to be a sign of stress). Finally, the elephant on which we rode around the camp was struggling all the way to walk. I am not sure if it was ill, or old and tired, but it was painful to watch him struggle on. It still brings tears to my eyes when i think of all this. Lonely planet seems to mention some genuine elephant conservation places in northern Thailand, it would be better to skip the elephants or to visit one of these places.
Finally, i guess we didn’t like the tourist places that piled them high and processed people through – this would include Mae Tang. We avoided eating at another elephant camp and loved the small individually owned eateries and markets that Wi took us to.
Read the operator's response here:
Thanks to Lorrie for her comments and so glad she had a good experience of Northern Thailand, I know our tour leader enjoyed her and her husband's company. I am sorry that the elephant camp was found to be a distressing experience. Our full comments on the use of elephants for tourism purposes can can be seen on our website We are often asked why we support the use of elephants in the tourist industry and on some occasions travellers have queried the ethics behind this.
Thailand, and to a degree Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, see the employment of elephants in the tourism industry. There is a huge population of domesticated elephants in Thailand, many of which have been domesticated for generations. They were used for transportation of goods and people, by the military, as well as for working in industries such as logging and agriculture but are now practically never used in any of these fields.
Domesticated elephants generally breed more rapidly, have a much lower death rate amongst the young and live to be older than their wild counterparts - due to better conditions, sufficient food and lack of predators.
It is unfortunately extremely difficult to rehabilitate Asian elephants born in captivity, to live in the wild, plus the current Thai wild elephant population is relatively stable and probably more or less optimal for the amount of remaining forest cover.
Keeping domesticated elephants is very expensive so, unless they are able to be employed in the tourism industry, there is absolutely no solution for many owners other than to have their animals put down. Many unemployed mahouts bring their animals into tourist cities such as Phuket, Chiang Mai, Phnom Penh begging to tourists. ("Buy some bananas for the elephant?") It is not uncommon to see a poor elephant walking down an 8-lane highway heading into downtown Bangkok and we strongly discourage the practice of feeding elephants in towns in this way, although clearly alternative sources of employment for the mahouts and their animals need to be provided.
Having elephants play football to entertain tourists is certainly not an ideal solution but, in view of the above, and indeed lack of any reasonable alternatives, we would certainly condone the use of elephants in the tourist industry. Out of the thousands of mahouts in Thailand, there may well be some less scrupulous than others, but in our many years of experience of visiting elephant camps, the vast majority seem to be very well run and the animals very well cared for.
If we ever have bad reports of a particular mahout then he gets reported to the management of the camp, and if we ever suspect the management of condoning such activities, the camp gets reported to the Tourism Authority of Thailand. (Since it is a key aspect of tourism in Thailand. TAT are genuinely concerned to ensure that all elephant camps are run correctly.) Elephants that are subject to excessive coercion are not going to be suitable for tourism anyway and an elephant that is scared is very dangerous - to his mahout let alone anyone else. Elephants are also notoriously stubborn animals and it is nigh on impossible to teach one of them to do tricks that it is not happy doing. So finally – the majority of elephants employed in the tourism industry are well looked after and no more mistreated than any other domesticated animal be it for example cat, dog or horse.